Our Position (Lotteries)

Focus on the Family opposes all forms of legalized gambling for both moral and pragmatic reasons. We believe the net societal effect of our government's embrace of gambling has been disastrous, especially for families. The lottery, put simply, is state-owned and state-operated gambling.

As a nation governed by a representative form of democracy, our elected government's primary purpose is to serve the people through ensuring basic security and by maintaining public order. Citizens hold the power to elect state and federal officials that best represent their views and values. Subsequently, government is held accountable to public scrutiny, as well as other branches of government. The concept of state-owned gambling, therefore, presents some obvious philosophical and ethical challenges.

When the idea of state-owned, -operated and –sponsored lotteries was first brought before the public, citizens were naturally inclined to trust that this government-sponsored activity would represent their best interests. Lotteries were established to complete a set objective (build a bridge, make a road, construct a school, etc) and then terminated once the goal was achieved. Lotteries had a set beginning and ending. Because a lottery is state-owned gambling – with the same inherent dangers of other forms of gambling – lotteries were used only as a temporary means to collect revenue.

But today, lotteries have morphed into permanent means for funding necessary, ongoing and essential programs such as public education. As a result, states have become dependent on state-sponsored gambling revenues, giving credence for states to become the biggest "bookies" in town. Who else has a license to operate mini-casinos in restaurants, convenience stores and grocery outlets?

By endorsing lotteries, state governments have placed themselves in the awkward and paradoxical position of funding a public virtue through the promotion and expansion of a social vice. One institution builds strong ethics, good character and quality education, while the other institution corrupts, perverts and promotes ignorance. One part of society is built through the degradation of another part of society. Some call this social cannibalism. Be assured, the net societal impact of gambling is negative, as social costs outweigh the state gambling-derived revenues by a ratio greater than three to one.

Concerning lotteries' impacts on families, consider that, in relationships where a spouse is addicted to gambling, domestic abuse is 10-times more likely to occur. When alcohol is added to gambling addiction, domestic abuse is 50-times more likely. Children are abused and neglected, bankruptcies increase, desperate addicts turn into criminals and families are ultimately destroyed.

Lotteries are presented to the public as a benign form of gambling. But they are wolves in sheep's clothing, especially since the invention of modern video lottery terminals (or video slot machines) to collect money from citizens rather than paper tickets. According to researchers, these machines are the "crack cocaine" of the lottery or gambling industry -- the most addictive form of gambling ever in history. Unsuspecting citizens are becoming addicted in one year's time, with these machines being nothing more than addiction delivery devices.

So, before state governments further embark on social and economic experiments that seek to dupe the public into gambling "for a good cause," citizens and families must recognize lotteries for what they are:

  • Gambling. A lottery is state-owned and state-operated gambling. Gambling is the art and science of deception that feeds on the exploitation of human weakness for the sole purpose of monetary gain. Playing the lottery is gambling.
  • False hope for the poor. Lotteries are marketed primarily in those communities with poorer populations, because false hope is easier to sell to those who want to escape poverty.
  • Regressive taxation. Poorer people spend proportionately more of their income on lotteries (false hope) than do middle-class or wealthy citizens.
  • Corrupting. Governments have a history of misusing lottery funds and succumbing to embezzlement and corruption.
  • Underminers of the work ethic. Lotteries promote false hope in a statistically ignorant gamble on chance that proliferates idleness by infusing the belief that you can – and should – get something for nothing. Chance replaces initiative, motivation, character, education, hard work and responsibility.
  • Cannibalizers. State governments exploit mass segments of society to benefit a few statistical anomalies (winners) and fund essential programs like education.
  • Economic destabilizers. Government uses citizens' money to exploit people and increase its dependence on a volatile and short-lived source of revenue. For instance, Georgia's HOPE scholarship program holds students' education hostage to the performance of Georgia's lottery, and the program has been placed in significant jeopardy due to the natural tendency of lotteries to level off and stop growing.
  • Addiction devices. Video lottery terminals (or video slots) are the most addictive form of gambling in history.
  • Destroyers of lives and families. Lotteries cause gambling addiction, which ultimately leads to the destruction of marriages, children and families. As for the addicted gambler, one in five pathological gamblers, and one in ten of their spouses, will attempt suicide.

As Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, explains, "Clearly, gambling is a destroyer that ruins lives and wrecks families." Lotteries promote gambling, which leads to addiction. And gambling addiction destroys families.

Matthew 7:15-20 warns us of sheep in wolves' clothing. It also tells us that we can distinguish between good and bad trees by the fruit they produce. Lottery gambling is clearly a "bad tree," or even a weed. It strangles that which could be fruitful, and it weakens society through causing addiction and destroying families.

See Focus on the Family Position Statement on Gambling for more detail.

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Next in this Series: Talking Points (Lotteries)